Travel distance, ticketing systems, trip planning… Here are the top five access challenges discouraging attendance.
We love museums and performing arts organizations, and if you’re reading this we bet you do, too. But research shows that there’s something likely visitors do not love about going to cultural organizations – and that’s the “hassle.”
Here are the top reasons why people with interest do not attend cultural organizations in 2020. At IMPACTS, we classify items related to the “hassle” as access barriers. They are currently fourth on the list of 2020 barriers. Access challenges are consistently identified as major reasons why likely visitors do not attend cultural organizations. (“Access” is a term also commonly used within the industry to include attitude affinities, or how welcome or unwelcome people feel attending certain organizations. At IMPACTS, we measure this critical and complex barrier to visitation separately from the physical elements of access that we are discussing in this particular article. You can learn more about that facet of access here.)
So what are the top access challenges, according to the people in the US? We pulled data from the trusty National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study – now with over 151,000 respondents and growing – to find out.
This week’s Fast Facts video for cultural executives identifies the five top access challenges in order and presents an overview of each one.
These items can be frustrating challenges. If minutes 1:38 – 1:53 in this video tickle your anxiety, then you’re probably a frequent museum-goer!
Perceived access challenges are real access challenges. If a person says that they aren’t attending because they don’t want to deal with the ongoing construction on Highway 41, then it’s an access challenge keeping them from making the visitation decision. It doesn’t matter if the construction on Highway 41 ended last week – if they think the construction is still happening, then that perception is keeping them from attending as if the construction were actually ongoing.
How have these physical access barriers changed due to the pandemic?
The order of the access barriers did not change, and we did not see a new physical access barrier arise. However, the index values and frequency of mention did indeed change due to the current condition.
The access challenges on this list are populated by a process called lexical analysis. Instead of asking participants to choose from a list, we pose open-ended inquiries to find out why people interested in visiting a cultural organization have not done so in the last two years. Advanced technologies then categorize and weight responses. When folks interested in visiting cultural entities tell us that they haven’t visited for a reason related to the access challenges, those reasons are included on this list. In this chart, the data is cut for end-of-year 2019 and September 1, 2020.
The data is quantified as index values. An index value is a way of assigning proportionality around a mean. The baseline measure for comparison purposes is 100. Barriers with an index value above 100 are especially worthy of consideration. Index values allow us to accurately compare the “weight” of factors to one another. As an example, a barrier with an index value of 100 is 4x greater than one with an index value of 25.
All right! Enough of the data onboarding, you say? Let’s dive in.
1) Hard to get there/travel distance
Physical remoteness and/or time required to commute, for example.
By far the most frequently mentioned items relating to access challenges have to do with difficulty getting to the organization. This is a difficult barrier to overcome, as entities can’t control traffic, travel distance, or construction along the way. And it may not matter even if they could. Maybe someone lives in a suburb only a few miles from the city in which a museum located. But if they feel like it’s hard to get into the city, being hard to get there is still an access barrier.
The increase in this factor’s index value in 2020 is likely related to physical travel barriers arising from the pandemic. There are quarantines and travel restrictions, fewer flights taking off, a lean toward day trips over longer trips, and a greater preference to travel by personal vehicle this year.
This is a big barrier, but the general solution to this may be best summed up in the wise words of comedian Steve Martin: “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”
Of course, he was talking about acting, but it’s not bad advice for cultural organizations, either.
2) Hard to purchase/transact
Difficulties with advance purchasing or ticketing infrastructure, for instance.
Difficulty purchasing tickets comes next – and its index value has risen above 100, indicating it is indeed a significant barrier in 2020.
While data shows that people weren’t likely to purchase tickets very far in advance pre-coronavirus, people wanted to be sure that if they make the trip, they’d get a ticket. This may be especially the case today. The growth in this factor likely relates to the introduction of new purchasing protocols. Whereas in the past people could simply walk up to the ticket counter and buy a ticket, many organizations now require that people purchase their tickets or reserve their attendance in advance due to capacity constraints. Timed and dated tickets have become increasingly standard as a response to managing capacity, which is an important safety protocol that helps play a role in guests feeling safe. (The capacity limitations, that is. Nobody likes tricky ticketing interfaces and convoluted purchasing protocols.)
Ticketing systems should be easy, quick, and convenient – both onsite and offsite. Having to click through 10 screens on a tiny smartphone screen to buy a ticket is a sure way to breed frustration and risk losing a visit to a competitor who makes the purchase transaction easier.
3) Non-responsive to inquiries or requests
Inadequate responsiveness on the phone or social media, for example.
Being non-responsive to inquiries or requests is the next access barrier. Maybe someone had a question that wasn’t answered. Or maybe they had a question and they didn’t think it would be answered. Leaving questions publicly unaddressed on social media sites, or having a standoffish tone if they are answered, may contribute to this perception.
Being non-responsive to inquiries has decreased when compared to the end of 2019. This may be partially due to the fact that there were fewer inquiries when entities were closed or entire communities were quarantining compared to when things were business as usual. Another factor to consider is that many organizations have become very good at maintaining communications during closures, such as when sharing information about new reopening protocols and safety measures. These communications may have preempted some inquiries. Additionally, front desks and social media community managers may have been especially aware of these kinds of questions, and are ready and prepared to respond to them.
4) Difficulty planning
Lack of advance planning information, for example.
Difficulty planning comes in fourth. That said, this was the second biggest access barrier just a few years ago! Google and other search engines now put maps, hours of operation, and information on things to do in the area front and center, making planning the day much easier. This index value has even slightly decreased in 2020. But that doesn’t mean that cultural organizations are excused from thinking about this barrier!
If one of an organization’s goals is to entice people to visit, then they benefit by making planning that visit as easy as possible.
5) Non-compliant building or experience
Physical and/or health limitations impacting how the entity is experienced, for example.
A non-compliant building – or the fear of one – rounds out the top five access-related barriers. Physical or health limitations may come last on the overall list, but for those who mention them, these concerns tend to matter a great deal. They may worry that there won’t be enough benches to rest at a historic site or be concerned about getting up to a balcony seat at the theater.
The index value of this factor has increased thus far in 2020, and this may directly or indirectly relate to health concerns for immune-compromised persons. In other words, some individuals or groups to whom this barrier matters most may be especially concerned that a non-compliant experience and its workarounds may put them at risk of contracting the coronavirus. This may be the case with elevators, for instance.
Making sure that you do indeed provide a compliant experience is the most straightforward way to overcome this barrier. It’s beneficial to be sure that all individuals have an experience that is as safe as possible in avoiding coronavirus risks. Moreover, educating and empowering front-line staff to help these visitors, when appropriate, may help alleviate this barrier as well.
Access challenges constitute a group of factors that combined present a top barrier – the “hassle” – to attending cultural organizations. Simply identifying these access challenges may be the first step to creating strategies to alleviate them.
Especially during this difficult time of depressed attendance, let’s make sure coming through our doors is as easy as possible.
We publish new data and analysis every other Wednesday. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.